Friday, April 30, 2010
What A Difference A Year Makes
I got into work the other morning and began my ritual of checking my email box, (the work one) my actual mail box, walking my departments and seeing what has sold or needs to be merchandised after being off for three days. Went through the special orders, checked the signups for the upcoming classes and started to settle in to being back at work. I have a somewhat revolving schedule that goes something like; five days on, one off and back in for five then off for three…kind of drives me nutty and that third day really makes me edgy. I trust my staff completely but I just feel like there is shit I could be and should be doing besides sitting on my couch watching Law & Order or movies. Okay a little side note, I did watch It’s Complicated Tuesday…dude, awesome. That movie was one of the best I have seen in a long time….great dialog and chemistry, cooking, sex, falling in and out of love. The very real connection between people that have loved, shared a life, raised kids…life, real life. Like I said, awesome.
I was just getting into my groove when Randy came in and started talking to me about how we can generate new business. I always get a knot in my gut with these conversations, I so want the store to thrive and I literally lose sleep trying to think of ways to make that happen. Fuck I even stated this silly blog hoping that I would be able to reach people, touch them and inspire them to come see us at The Wine Country. I’ve put my whole life, the good and the bad…my whole heart into sharing myself here in this space in the hope that people would feel my passion for wine, my whole hearted love for it…how it was able to change me. Exposed myself in order to create a connection, I have not that much to give, just me, my stories and my connection to wine. What I’ve learned, how wine has found a way to touch every inch of my flesh, how it speaks to me, whispers to me….purrs at me and pushes me. The way it seduces me, is always in my head and my heart…
My late night rants and ramblings are my cricket’s song….me rubbing my legs together, stringing my words together trying to weave a tapestry intriguing enough for people to begin rubbing their own legs together…start chirping and paint their own story with wine. My biggest hope is that they let our store be a part of it, think of us when they think about wine and all its glorious pleasures.
“You always have something creative to say on your blog, I just wish we could figure out a way to channel some of that to strum up some excitement here in the shop” Randy said as we were tossing ideas back and forth…I was momentarily speechless. Randy and I have had our disagreements about this blog, he is not a blog guy and for the most part sees them as a giant waste of time. Matter of fact a year ago even saying the word blog induced and almost gag-looking face for him…like he was trying to say it but the sheer ridiculousness of it all caused his face to screw all up. He started coming around a bit a few months ago and seems to read, (from what I can tell) fairly regularly now. We used to kind of bicker about it, me proclaiming it an important tool while secretly being crushed that he didn’t see that I spent my nights writing and spilling my guts, trying to be funny or at the very least interesting…for him, for the store. He concerned that I was spending all this time and energy for nothing. “Aside from giving us more exposure”….don’t even need to finish the rest of his sentence, he was acknowledging the fact that my hours of work and nakedness had in fact done something. What a difference a year makes.
We hashed out some ideas and I started an email blast about 2007 Burgundy. A vintage I went weak in the knees for the second I tasted my first little Bourgogne and one that has the press now taking a second look at. I harvested information from the “pros” and we put together a rather exciting lineup of wines to blast our customers with. I was feeling kind of driven and focused and that is when I saw him.
We have quite a few handicapped customers at The Wine Country, people that come in and need our help filling their glass, taking their credit cards from their wallets and even one customer that requires a bendy straw in order to sip his wine. These things touch me, to have a person that has been through whatever trauma that is courageous enough to have us bendy their straw, carry their case out or dig into their personal belongings to retrieve their credit card…well I admire that kind of openness and fearlessness. I envy it in a way.
I watched as he limped in rather uncomfortably, legs wobbly, leaning heavily on the cane at his left side. I was going about my business, pricing wines, calling reps, ringing up other customers but I kept my eye on him. Baggy Dockers, cane, sweater, awkward lean. I did my thing, working as always but this cane using, sweater clad figure with the tall man assisting him were in my peripheral. He seemed to be having his needs met, staff running to retrieve wines he wanted and him taking his time navigating the sales floor with a shopping cart.
I found myself watching him, the way he slowly shifted the hearty bar on the cart. The way he seemed to will his legs to power that cart. I was admiring him from afar, proud if his strength, his drive and just when I thought I could not be more moved he swung his cart around. Cane dangling on the side, tall assistant at the ready but not interfering, a face looking back at me. Eyes I had seen many times before but encased in a body that was not the one I had last seen him in.
“Credit or Debit?” I asked in my lightest most friendly voice. “Um, it’s been so long since I have answered that question I’m not sure what to say” he responded. I felt my throat get thick and I felt my eyes locked on his. “I came for some Rose. I love coming here for Rose” he said as he watched me grip the neck of his gathered bottles and drop them in a box. I laid the credit card receipt on the counter and pushed a pen closer to his fragile frame. I watched as he used his left arm to lift his right hand…the one with the curled under fingers and unnatural arch and marveled in the way he was able to rest that unwilling limb atop the receipt and sign his name with his left hand.
A stroke, one year ago this maybe fifty year old violin repairman had a massive stroke that has had him in physical therapy every single day for a year. This man spent a year re-learning how to talk, walk, brush his teeth and stand and here he was, visiting The Wine Country and buying Rose. A connection. His body may not be as able as it once was but his memory of shopping at our store for Rose was vivid and powerful enough to bring him back. “It is so nice to see you again” I said as I handed over his receipts and pushed his box of wine in the direction of his helper. “Nice to be seen” he said with a smile and slowly made his way out the door. I watched as Randy chatted with him out by his car and before I knew it I was crying. Not sad for such a strong and courageous soul, no I was touched that coming to see us was something that he wanted to do.
Vintage, watching this whole thing made me think about vintage and what it really means. One year. So much can happen in the span of a year, the good the bad, the heartfelt and the humbling and all of that becomes part of who we are. How one year can change us, add layers to the already complex creatures that we are. Each vintage leaving it little “I was here” mark on each of us. It’s the same with wine really and I for one happen to find comfort in the connection to a wine through its expression of a vintage. When tasting a 2003 Burgundy, the somewhat forced ripeness, the super soft acidity, the clumsy chunkiness of it, I am reminded of record breaking heat waves and watching footage of Europeans dipping into historic fountains to relieve themselves from the oppressive heat….tasting a wine from that vintage paints a picture on my palate of what the vines had to endure and what a winemaker was able to make from that. Smoke taint from fires, overripe or under ripe fruit, hard tannin, soft acidity, plump or thin each vintage leaving its mark, its history and it is there for us to taste. I want wine to speak to me like that, share its story, its struggles or windfalls with me. Much like the way I wish to make people understand my passion for wine by retelling the story of the evening, the people or the lust that surrounded it. That’s why I have never gotten too caught up in the whole which vintage is better deal, why I don’t measure one against the other. Was year 34 better for me than year 38? Dunno, without that 34 I wouldn’t be this 38 and any attempt to place value on one above the other seems not only silly but really missing the beauty of discovery and expression.
Now I’m not saying I want to drink, (or want other people to drink for that matter) jacked up wines and when you follow producers rather than vintages the chances of that happening are slim. A great winemaker would sooner scrap a vintage, sell it off in bulk than dump a bunch of crap wine on the market with their name on it which is why I have always been much more producer driven than vintage driven. I like that I can taste subtle differences from vintage to vintage…even dramatic difference are thrilling for me. It’s all history, it’s all a story and for me it is a very real connection to a place, a winemaker and that one year. The next vintage will just be one more for me to read, feel, taste and connect with and I find myself grateful for that.
Grateful to the Francois Chidaines, Dominique Lafons, the Alix de Montilles…winemakers that aren’t trying to crank out some soulless, timeless, placeless “juice” they are pouring me a story, inviting me to taste what each year has given them, reaching me and adding my experience, each new experience as one more chapter in their history book…weather they know it or not.
One year ago I could not know that Randy would be proud of the work I have put into this blog and even start gathering bits of my stoopid ramblings to include in our newsletter…
One year ago I could not know that a loyal customer would suffer as traumatic a life changing event as I could imagine and still find the will and want to come shop for Rose with us.
One year ago I could not imagine that the founder of Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine would be reading my French leaning drivel
One year ago I could not have known that my best friend would move out of state
One year ago I could not know that a brilliant comedic writer would enter my life and forever change me
One year ago I could not know that I would be travelling to Memphis to meet a couple of my readers
One year ago I could not know that a sweet American living in France would find me
One year ago I could not know that the wine writer for the New York Times would read me, understand me, find something in my buzzy late night musings worth visiting time and time again
The Wine Country
The wines that send shivers down my spine
Wines that seem to wrap their fingers around my throat and gently stroke the words out of me
That make that all possible
Make this all possible
To each other
Beautiful discovery of exploration…..